A History of England vs Croatia: 4 wins and a brolly

England take on Croatia in the World Cup Semi Final tonight in the biggest game in which they’ve ever faced each other. England have only faced Croatia on 7 occasions since Croatia became a recognised member of FIFA back in 1992. Here’s a look back at those previous encounters.

England 0-0 Croatia (Friendly 24th April 1996)

It’s rare in modern football for England to play an opposing nation for the very first time, but it happened with the newly recognised Croatia in the build up to Euro ’96, which would be Croatia’s first major tournament. Terry Venables played his Plan B 3-5-2 system with starts handed to Nottingham Forest winger Steve Stone & Liverpool poacher Robbie Fowler. In truth this was a typical tournament build up game with little to excite the Wembley crowd bar a disallowed goal from David Platt. Few England fans left this one optimistic about Euro ’96. Croatia would make the quarter-finals where a red card at 1-1 cost them dear against Germany when a semi-final date with England loomed. If Igor Stimac had kept his head it might have all been so different.

Some lovely moustaches oversee the handshakes in England first ever game against Croatia

England 3-1 Croatia (Friendly 20th August 2003)

England achieved their first win over Croatia at the second attempt at Portman Road of all places. Five years on from their run to the last 4 at France ’98 and Croatia were rebuilding whilst Sven-Goran Eriksson picked his strongest available line up. It took just 9 minutes for England to go ahead when a blatant handball gave David Beckham a penalty, Beckham sealed victory early in the second half with a trademark cross disecting Croatia’s back line and Michael Owen pounced for 2-0. Substitute Ivica Mornar earned a bit of history when he fired home from a rebound to give Croatia their first ever goal against England. But England had the last laugh when a knock back on the edge of the box found Frank Lampard who did his thing and found the top corner for 3-1.

England 4-2 Croatia (Euro 2004 Group Game)

The first game tournament game between the sides came in Lisbon in the final group game of Euro 2004 with England knowing a draw would see them through but lose and Croatia would replace them in the quarter-final lineup. Croatia struck first when Niko Kovac scrambled home after just 5 minutes. England pressed forward and Croatia’s resistance broke on 40 minutes when Owen forced a fumble from ‘keeper Tomislav Butina and Wayne Rooney picked out Paul Scholes to head home his final goal for England. With half time approaching Scholes turned provider as he picked out Rooney 20 yards out and given time to pick his spot smashed home to give England the lead.

Rooney gives England the lead and a place in the Euro 2004 quarters

After a frustrating tournament playing on the left confidence was pouring into Scholes who almost got his second with a powerful drive just after half time. But it was Rooney’s night and on 68 minutes he burst forward after a clever reverse pass from Owen to go clean through and calmly slot home. In a loose closing period the sides traded goals with centre back Igor Tudor powering home a header from a corner to give Croatia hope before Lampard completed the scoring with a nice dummy and shot from the edge of the box to secure an entertaining 4-2 win and access to the last 8.

Croatia 2-0 England (Euro 2008 Qualifier- 11th October 2006)

When outgoing England manager Eriksson attended the draw for Euro 2008 qualifying he declared his successor would be happy with what he saw as a winnable group against Croatia, Russia, Israel and three lightweight sides Macedonia, Estonia & Andorra. But new boss Steve McClaren was already in trouble after a dour 0-0 draw at home to mighty Macedonia and with Steven Gerrard suspended England looked vulnerable as they headed to Zagreb. But McClaren had a plan with little preparation time available he switched the formation to 3-5-2, it smacked of muddled thinking, why would you play a system dependant on having pace to get in behind and pick a front pair of Rooney & Peter Crouch? Had Gary Neville ever played Right Wing-back? Was this the time to throw  in Scott Parker for his first cap in 2 and half years?

Football - Croatia v England - Euro 2008 qualifier 72067702AL019
Paul Robinson waits for the Zagreb pitch to swallow him

England were a mess from start to finish with the midfield 3 of Parker, Lampard & Michael Carrick showing the co-ordination of a couple on a Blind Date with Rooney looking lost and the back line under constant pressure. 21-year-old Luka Modric had the run of the park and he broke the deadlock with a looping cross that Eduardo headed over Paul Robinson for 1-0. Disaster then became farce when Neville played simple back pass to Robinson who kicked fresh air and saw the ball roll under his foot and in for a bizarre own goal 2-0 and the knives were out for McClaren.

England 2-3 Croatia (Euro 2008 Qualifier- 21st November 2007)

13 months on from the loss in Zagreb and England’s shambolic qualifying campaign was thrown a final lifeline when Russia surprisingly lost in Israel 4 days before England’s final qualifier at Wembley against already qualified Croatia. It all meant England only needed a point to make it to the finals, surely McClaren could manage that?

But McClaren had selection headaches with Ferdinand, Terry, Cole, Neville, Rooney & Owen all unavailable whilst David James was dropping more balls than a dorm room full of 11-year-olds. McClaren decided to play nervy goalkeeper Scott Carson for only his second cap, picked a makeshift back 4, and 6ft 7″ Crouch as a lone striker with Joe Cole & Shaun Wright-Phillips down the flanks neither of whom were exactly noted for crosses.

At kick off the London rain poured down over Wembley and  McClaren decided to seek shelter under an umbrella- he quickly realised he should have brought a tin helmet. After just 8 minutes Niko Kranjcar hit a speculative long-range effort, Carson turned to smoke and the ball went straight through him into the England net. Just 6 minutes later an incisive Croatian counter attack played Ivica Olic straight through, he simply danced around Carson and planted the ball into an empty net 0-2 and the boos rang out around Wembley.

The Wally with the Brolly

With things getting desperate McClaren threw on Beckham (who he’d previously dropped). He got a response as England pushed forward and won a penalty which Lampard despatched for 1-2. Then with 25 minutes to go it seemed Beckham had saved his nation yet again when his first time cross found Crouch who chested down and smashed home for 2-2. England were saved, the draw was enough and the path to the Euros was open, McClaren’s assistant Venables advised him to put on Owen Hargreaves to shore up the defence and see out the game, McClaren dithered whilst opposite number Slaven Bilic put on Mladen Petric and whilst McClaren pondered Petric hit a shot from the edge of England’s box, Carson dived like a sack of potatoes and it was 2-3. England were out and by 7.30 the following morning so was McClaren as he joined Neville Chamberlain in the pantheon of men associated with umbrellas and failure.

Croatia 1-4 England (World Cup Qualifier 10th September 2008)

After the Euros shamble England looked to the one world-class manager who wanted the England job- Italian taskmaster Fabio Capello. And the draw for the Euros set Capello an early benchmark against McClaren’s reign with England drawing Croatia in the World Cup qualifiers. The campaign had got off to a stuttering start with a 2-0 win over Andorra as England pitched up in Zagreb almost 2 years on from that first painful loss to Bilic’s side.

Despite missing the injured Gerrard Capello picked a tough looking team featuring 7 players who’d started the Champions League final 4 months earlier. He also went with Arsenal teenager Theo Walcott who’d impressed against Andorra. Capello’s judgement was spot on and after an even start Croatian defender Daniejl Pranjic fired a clearance against his own teammate and into the path of Walcott who blasted home from the right for 1-0. England were bossing the game and when Robert Kovac earned a red card for a lunge on Joe Cole England began to run riot. A neat passing moving between Heskey and Rooney put Walcott clean through for his second on 59 minutes. Just 4 minutes later sub Jermaine Jenas strolled down the left and pulled back a cross for Rooney who rifled home for 3. England got sloppy and allowed Croatia to break and Mario Madzukic pulled a goal back. But it was Walcott’s night and 8 minutes from time Jenas played him in and the teenager slotted home for 4-1 and as England ended the match with a game of keep ball revenge was well and truly theirs.

Walcott grabs the first of his hat trick

England 5-1 Croatia (World Cup Qualifer 9th September 2009)

A year on from the drubbing in Zagreb Bilic arrived at Wembley for the return:the site of his greatest triumph but he looked a condemned man on his way to the guillotine. The tables had been turned with Capello’s England having stormed to 7 straight qualifying wins and knowing another win here would secure the group whilst Croatia were struggling to make even a play off. Capello picked a similar looking side to the one that triumphed in Zagreb but replaced Walcott with in-form Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon.

It was Lennon who made the early breakthrough, tearing into the box and drawing a penalty which Lampard despatched for the early lead. Gerrard then set Lennon racing down the right again and Lennon’s looping cross found Gerrard at the back post to head home for 2-0 after just 18 minutes and Croatia were beaten.

Gerrard and Lampard trounce Croatia at Wembley

The second half was literally a case of how many England would get, Glenn Johnson crossed from right and found Lampard in oceans of space to pick his spot and head in for 3-0 on the hour. Gerrard then played Rooney into the box who pulled back from the byline for Gerrard to head in the fourth. Eduardo pulled back a consolation from a goalmouth scramble. But it was England’s night again rounded off by hapless ‘keeper Vedran Runje sending a weak clearance straight to Rooney who rattled in the fifth.

Surprisingly the two teams haven’t met again until they renew the rivalry tonight. As it stands England have won 4, lost 2 and drawn 1 with teams contributing 28 goals in just the 7 games. If history does repeat itself there’ll be goals galore tonight.





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